Long Road Home: Excerpt

Book Five: The Barker Triplets

 

Chapter one

            Bobbi Jo Gallagher arrived in Belle Adair, Louisiana, at three in the afternoon on a hot, lazy Monday in mid-July.  It was the kind of hot that baked the asphalt until bubbles of tar appeared. The kind that made the air shimmer across the horizon, and clothes stick to skin like paper on glue. It was in fact, a kind of heat she’d never experienced before.

She pushed her way inside the B&B and glanced up at the clock over the fireplace to her right, which is how she knew the exact time of her arrival. She wasn’t feeling great on account of all that heat, and more than a little disappointed that the B&B wasn’t much cooler than the humidity she’d just escaped. She made her way to the reception desk on her left, and waited while a woman, Mrs. Adelaide, conversed with another woman behind the desk. The receptionist looked like she’d rather be anywhere but standing behind the desk nodding politely at the aforementioned, Mrs. Coral Adelaide.

In the short space of time Bobbi stood there, the woman had mentioned her name at least twice (which is how Bobbi knew who she was) along with the fact that her people were the Adelaides from Charleston. Which sounded impressive to be sure, but Bobbi had no idea who they were, and hid a smile at the slight eye roll from the receptionist; Marybeth, according to her name tag. She had a dark brown bob shot through with silver, kind brown eyes, and was small in stature.

“I understand,” Marybeth murmured, nodding at Mrs. Adelaide. “And I’m quite confident you’ll enjoy the room we’ve given you.”

Mrs. Adelaide was dressed in a light cotton shirt of pale pink and cream colored Bermuda shorts cut exactly two inches above her knee. Her silver hair was set in large waves that didn’t move at all as she spoke animatedly about the size of her room, and Bobbi sighed inwardly. All she wanted to do was check in and have a nap. She’d been traveling for hours and was just about done in.

Restless, she took a step closer and exhaled just as her stomach rolled over. Her mouth watered. Sweat popped out on her brow. And at exactly two minutes after three she threw up all over Mrs. Adelaide’s pink and white canvas shoes.

            Now, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Mrs. Adelaide, of the Charleston Adelaides, was the kind of woman who enjoyed a scene. She glanced down in horror, her corn-flower blue eyes narrowed onto Bobbi like laser beams about to explode, as her bejewelled hands flew in the air with the kind of dramatic flair that under any other circumstance, Bobbi would have found enviable.

            “Oh my God,” Bobbi whispered, a hand over her mouth, as she took a step back. “I’m so sorry. It’s the heat. I don’t know…” Mortified, she clamped her mouth shut, afraid she might add to the mess on the woman’s shoes, and took another step back just in case. She stared down at the ruined shoes, unable to move or utter another word and she began to shake.

            What the hell was wrong with her?

            “Oh my gosh, you look terrible. So pale.” The girl from behind the counter rushed forward with a glass of water and led Bobbi over to a chair in the corner. “Now you sit here and sip this water and don’t you worry yourself one bit.” Those kind eyes were gentle and Bobbi felt stupid because she wanted to cry, which was silly. But then throwing up all over some stranger’s shoes was the kind of thing that most days would make someone like Bobbi Jo lose her mind.

            It wasn’t most days anymore. In fact this life she led, this new landscape she traversed, was so foreign that the thought of it made her stomach roil again. Bobbi nodded in silence, and grabbed the cold glass, dutifully sipping the water while she watched Marybeth deal with the woman, her shoes, and the mess on the floor.

            By the time it was all sorted and Mrs. Adelaide had been escorted up to her room, (not before sending an impressive amount of stink-eye Bobbi’s way) Bobbi felt better and got to her feet.

            “I’m so sorry,” she said as Marybeth appeared once more. “I don’t know what happened.”

            “Sweetie, don’t worry about it. You’re from the north and this kind of heat isn’t for everyone. It’ll take some to get used to, but I’m sure you’ll be fine in no time. And yes, the AC is being a little difficult, but Marshall says he’ll have it up to snuff in no time.”

            Bobbi attempted to smile, encouraged by Marybeth’s tone and the way her words rolled so softly underneath her southern charm.

            “Now,” Marybeth said, turning to the computer at the desk. “You must be Bobbi Jo Gallagher.”

            “I am.”

            “Is this your first time in Belle Adair?”

            “It is.”

            Marybeth smiled as she clicked her way across the keyboard. “I’m always curious to know how folks end up here.” She glanced up. “Has someone you know stayed before?”

            Bobbi nodded. “My sister-in-law. About a year or so ago. She recommended this place. She spoke very highly of it and if I remember correctly she mentioned a Miss Callie. She wanted me to say hello.”

            Marybeth’s smile widened even more. “That’s my mama. This is her place, actually. I’m just helping out on account she was laid up in the hospital for a few days.”

            “Oh, no. I hope she’s okay?”

            Marybeth snorted. “My gosh, yes. She’s fine.” Those fingers clicked some more. “More than fine to be honest. Why she cut her leg frogging in the creek out back with Mackie, my grandson, and it got infected and well, she ended up in the hospital. It was a nasty spell. But don’t worry about her. Miss Callie has the kind of backbone that was built to last. She’ll outlive us all. I don’t doubt that one bit.”

            Marybeth stepped around the desk. “Do you have more luggage?”

            Bobbi had only brought in one bag. “I have big suitcase and a smaller one in the car but I’ll grab them later.  I really just want to get to my room.”

            “Don’t you worry about that. Give me your keys and I’ll get Marshall to bring them up in a bit. He’s here doing some repairs to the gazebo in the back garden after the mother of all windstorms a few days back, and well, the air conditioning needs his special touch as well.”

            Bobbi gave the woman the keys to her rental and followed her up the stairs to a large landing and then up another set of stairs that led to a large loft that had been converted into two rooms. Bobbi’s was on the right.

            “Here you go, sugar. When you booked, you indicated you were staying the summer so we gave you our largest accommodation. You have your own bathroom as well, so no sharing with anyone else, and a small kitchenette. Breakfast and luncheon are served in the dining room seven days a week. All the information you’ll need is in the pamphlet. I hope you enjoy the space, it’s my favorite.” She winked. “And don’t worry about Mrs. Adelaide. I put her in the lavender room downstairs and I think she’s only staying a few weeks while she’s visiting her son. With any luck, she won’t bother you about those Adelaide’s from Charleston.”

            Bobbi closed the door and leaned against it as she took in the room. It was beautiful. Soft creams and pale green and a ceiling fan that slowly turned, stirring the air a bit. The furniture was antique, the main focus a four-poster bed complete with billowing sheer material that fell around it to the floor. There was a sitting area near a large window, with a table and overstuffed chair, and a few feet away the kitchenette, complete with a small fridge and toaster oven. A tall, beautiful mirror leaned against the wall over by the dresser, as well as a large potted fern. The wood floors gleamed and smelled of lemon, and there were several area rugs strewn about that complimented the décor. A door to her left was open, which led to a good-sized bathroom, with a shower and a large porcelain tub that sported claw feet.

            This would be her home for the next while and it was about as perfect as she’d hoped it would be.

            Home.

            Her chin trembled at the thought, and it took a lot not to cry. She’d cried more tears than she thought possible over the last few months and damned if she was gonna give in to them now.
            Swiping at the corners of her eyes she walked over to the bed and parted the sheer curtains, then glanced up and caught sight of herself in the mirror. Pale skin. Dark bruises beneath her overlarge eyes. Hair down past her shoulders, thick and straight and shiny. Lips colored a soft pink.

            She was too thin, and the simple pale yellow sun dress was loose where it shouldn’t be. She smoothed her hands over her hips and sighed. She looked better than she should considering the overwhelming sadness that had filled her up for weeks. No, for months now. She lifted her chin and stared at her reflection. Could she find her way back to the woman she used to be? How connected was that person to Shane? Could she live without him?

            She grabbed her purse and retrieved her cell phone. She had it to her ear in seconds, and listened to the only saved voicemail she had. As always, his voice nearly broke her, but she wasn’t strong enough to stop listening. At least, not yet.

            “Bobbi, where the hell are you? You gotta let me explain. It’s not what you think. Jesus, it’s not even close. I just…we need to fix this. We need to fix us but I can’t do it on my own. I can’t. I love you. I need you. Call me.”

            “Oh Shane,” she whispered. “It’s too late.”

            Bobbi slammed her eyes shut, but the images of Shane and that woman appeared, taunting her from the shadows of her mind and she tossed her phone in anger. She wouldn’t think about it. She’d come here to forget about everything, not relive the sad end to a marriage that for the most part had been perfect.

            Until it wasn’t.

            She slid onto the bed and grabbed her phone back, opening her purse so she could put it out of sight.

            That’s when she spied a small pink case, there at the bottom of the bag. She stared at it for a long, long time. Then she thought, and thought some more, and confused, stared at it again until her eyes blurred. Slowly she picked up the case and opened it; an emergency supply of tampons.

            The blood drained from her face and she fell back onto the bed, thinking back three months. To the last night she’d spent with Shane. A night when their arguments had turned heated and not unexpectedly, passionate. There was always so much fire between them. They’d had angry sex. Lots, of hot, angry sex.

            And the next night they were over.

              Shane Gallagher was the only man she’d ever love and for the last three months they’d been living apart. Officially separated because Bobbi was, if anything, the kind of woman who paid attention to details. And if they were no longer together, then they were no longer together on paper.

            Of course her sisters had their say. Billie thought she was overreacting and needed to take a step back. Betty thought she was just plain crazy. And Gramps? Well, he’d just shook his head in that way he had, and patted her on the shoulder.

            She’d pushed for the separation, but then she’d had her reasons. Shane Gallagher owned her heart, but he’d been careless with it. And maybe she’d been careless with his; he wasn’t the only one to blame for the demise of their marriage. But the fact was, the last words they’d shared face to face had been awful and those spoken barbs were nearly three months old.  Was the result of those words and all that hot, angry sex, growing inside her?

A sob caught at the back of her throat and she shook her head. Was it possible? After all this time, was God finally giving her the one thing she wanted, when it was the worst possible time, ever, in the history of worst possible times?

            Bobbi Jo rolled onto her side, exhausted. She couldn’t process it right now. She closed her eyes, and as the turmoil inside continued to grow, she somehow managed to fall asleep. But her dreams were haunted by a man with dark eyes, a wicked grin, and the kind of touch that melted her from the inside out.

            She’d come all the way to Belle Adair, Louisiana to forget about Shane Gallagher but the joke was on her. He’d followed her anyway.


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